Our tour of the northern Tuscan coastal portion of Italy continues from Part-1 in last month’s issue of Baggers (July 2012). We headed out from Pisa and Lucca north on the Autostrada A12 with a stop at Forte dei Marmi.
This part of the Tuscan coast, known as Versilia and Costa Apuana, is where Michelangelo not only fell in love with the gentle hills full of olive trees leading to the sparkling blue Mediterranean—but the towering Apuan Alps is where he quarried his white marble for his masterpieces such as David, which resides in the Accademia Gallery in Firenze (Florence).
Continuing north on either the coastal road or the Autostrada toward Genova (remember, Autostrada direction signs show the larger cities), we make a quick stop in Marina di Massa. A monument consisting of 14 massive carved blocks of marmi bianchi (white marble) artfully arranged like a haphazard set of books on a bookshelf, and the nearby pier, make this a nice place to let the CVO cruiser cool off and check out the spiaggia (beach).
The beaches and towns are typically crowded in the Estate (Summer), and the shoreline looks like an endless flow of umbrellas, organized in groups of colors for each beach club. The free public beach areas are usually found near piers and other openings between the private beach clubs, which lease the land from the government. You can inquire with a beach club (called bagno, which is slang since the full Italian term is too long) for a guest space for a nominal fee. This will include a changing closet, in which you can lock your effects, and enjoy provided lounge chairs and umbrella on the beach.
Most beach clubs feature a full service restaurant or snack bar, so you can relax in one location the entire day.
(Note: August is when most Europeans take vacation and hotels may be full. Italians also take the month off, so many non tourist-based businesses might be closed or dormant for this summer period).
There are many hotels to choose from and even campgrounds along this coastal section. Being tourist friendly, chances are good that they will speak some English. When visiting another country though, it’s always a good idea to learn a few basic terms in the native language, and parli Inglese? (do you speak English?) is certainly one of the best to know.
Being based in this region allows you to explore the northern Tuscan territory in easy day-trips in any direction. From Marina di Massa or neighboring Marina di Carrara, where my base of operations and family nerve-center is located, you can head 5 kilometers inland and up the hill to either of the twin cities of Massa and Carrara at the base of the Apuan Alps. Collectively known for the extraction and production of gleaming white Carrara marble, their economies have relied upon this milky-gold for centuries.
Quarries and Castles
Exploring the marble quarries, various medieval hilltop villages and castles in this northernmost Tuscan province of Massa-Carrara, offers many awe-inspiring options.
Arriving at the quarries is a simple matter of exiting the Autostrada and following the initial sign to Carrara and the “cave di marmo” (marble caves) signs. You’ll head up the hill and go through Carrara then start to climb the slopes of the majestic Apuan Alps. Along the way you will find several souvenir shops selling all manner of carved marble objects, even the smallest of these can be quite heavy.
In Roman times, quarrymen cut the marble by hand with hammers, chisels, and iron pegs at the rate of about an inch a day. Today, even diamond-edged wire blades can only cut 20cm (8 inches) per hour, but ultimately slice 15,000 tons daily from these mountains and is hauled off in hulking blocks by huge flatbed trucks.